Are you craving an old-school sidescroller that’s unapologetically difficult and has a great soundtrack? 8-Bit Commando has you covered.

Carrying on the tradition of old run and guns like Rush’n Attack and Contra, 8-Bit Commando has you running left-to-right, shooting everything that moves, and hoping you’ll make it more than 10 seconds without dying. However, this title isn’t content with just repackaging your nostalgia: it actively works to maintain its own identity, and as a result, it provides something familiar yet new.

I’m going to put this out there right away: if you aren’t into old-style games, don’t even bother with 8-Bit Commando. Being able to fire diagonally only while moving, not being able to move forward while crouching, being able to only carry one weapon at a time…everything about this one has been made to explicitly resemble the games that inspired it, providing an experience that feels like it could have happened during a time when the NES was state-of-the-art and Reagan was still president of the United States. These deliberate design choices will likely alienate some younger gamers, but for those of us that grew up during the 80’s, 8-Bit Commando is like injecting nostalgia directly into your veins.

It can be a bit difficult to determine if you should duck or jump over bullets that are heading your way, but once you get used to the hitbox on your character, this becomes less of an issue. Still, because of the pace that enemies fire off rounds, things get extremely hectic whenever there’s more than one or two enemies on screen. With that being said, the sheer variety of enemies is mind boggling: most stages have enemies that are unique to them, and the ones that use firearms will frequently use different weapons, rather than only the standard-issue “machine gun”.

8-Bit Commando isn’t just going to challenge your bullet-dodging skills, but your platforming skills as well. You have solid and consistent control over how high your character jumps, and placing him exactly where you want him to go is a relatively simple affair. If you mess up a jump, it certainly won’t be because the controls prevented you from making the landing; it will be because you pushed too far in one direction or another.

Despite the old-timey game design, there are still some more modern trappings present here. You have an actual health bar, what amounts to unlimited lives, and stages have multiple checkpoints that are placed almost perfectly, showing up just one or two screens past where you would expect them to (which helps maintain the game’s difficulty level.) It’s worth noting that, although you’ll restart at the last checkpoint if you die, you’ll have to start the stage all over again if you go back to the main screen or quit the game. This helps keep you locked into the game, and will likely extend some of your sessions. Don’t let the “health bar, unlimited lives, and checkpoints” fool you though…this is still a VERY challenging game. Finishing a level off provides a great sense of accomplishment, and sometimes even elicited a shout of triumph from me.

In addition to the previously mentioned modern-day mechanics, there’s also a high score leader board that’s populated by gamers from all over the world. Take one look at the top ten for any of the game’s six stages, and you’ll find a wide variety of countries being represented. Due to the nature of the game, the leader boards are kept to realistic scores. You actually have a decent chance at making it into the top 10, and with some practice you could probably crack the top 5. Because of how your score is determined, the leader boards seem to foster actual skill and competition, rather than the “who can dedicate more of their time” trap that so many other games fall into.

From the gorgeous retro graphics to the killer chiptune soundtrack to the challenging gameplay, this one seems like it was made specifically for all the 80’s kids out there. If you want a gaming experience from your childhood wrapped up in its own distinct package, 8-Bit Commando is where it’s at. 8-Bit Commando is available for both Windows and OSX, and can be had for $6.25.

A big thanks to the 8-Bit Commando dev team for providing a copy of the game for review.